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October 27 2015

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Financial Abuse as a Means of Control and Dominance in Domestically Violent Relationships

By Christian Vann, Communications Fellow

What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in general, include tactics to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances.   Financial abuse along with emotional, physical and sexual abuse, manipulation, intimidation and threats are all intentional tactics used by an abuser aimed at entrapping the partner in the relationship.  In some abusive relationships, financial abuse is present throughout the relationship and in other cases financial abuse becomes present when the survivor is attempting to leave or has left the relationship.

Financial abuse, while less commonly understood, is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship and deeply diminishes his or her ability to stay safe after leaving an abusive relationship. Research indicates that financial abuse is experienced in 98 percent of abusive relationships and surveys of survivors reflect that concerns over their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children was one of the top reason for staying in or returning to a battering relationship. As with all forms of abuse, it occurs across all socio-economic, educational and racial and ethnic groups.

Forms of Financial Abuse

As with other forms of abuse, financial abuse may begin subtly and progress over time. It may even look like love initially as abusers have the capacity to appear very charming and are masterful at manipulation. For example, the abuser may make statements such as “I know you’re under a lot of stress right now, so why don’t you just let me take care of the finances and I’ll give you money each week to take care of what you need.”

Under these circumstances, the victim may believe that he or she should trust the partner he and may willingly hand over control of the money and how it is spent. This scenario commonly leads to the batterer giving the victim less and less in “allowance” and by the time the victim decides to take back control of the finances, the accounts have all been moved or the abuser restricted access to the family funds.

In other cases, the financial abuse may be much more overt.  Batterers commonly use violence or threats of violence and intimidation to keep the victim from working or having access to the family funds.  Whether subtle or overt, there are common methods that batterers use to gain financial control over their partner.  These include:

  • Forbidding the victim to work
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose her job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Controlling how all of the money is spent
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts
  • Withholding money or giving an “allowance”
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine
  • Hiding assets
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property or inheritance
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits”
  • Filing false insurance claims
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets

The Impact of Abuse

The short and long term effects of financial abuse can be devastating. In the short term, access to assets is imperative to staying safe. Without assets, survivors are often unable to obtain safe and affordable housing or the funds to provide for themselves or their children. With realistic fears of homelessness, it is little wonder that survivors sometimes return to the battering relationship.

For those who manage to escape the abuse and survive initially, they often face overwhelming odds in obtaining long-term security and safety. Ruined credit scores, sporadic employment histories and legal issues caused by the battering make it extremely difficult to gain independence, safety and long-term security.

Source: National Network to End Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Statistics

  • 1 in 4 women report experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes.
  • 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths are caused each year by domestic violence.
  • All cultural, religious, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds are affected by domestic violence.
  • Nearly 2.2 million people called domestic violence services in 2005.
  • Over 75% of Americans believe the economic downturn further strained domestic violence victims and survivors.
  • 67% of Americans believe the poor economy has caused an increase in domestic violence.  
  • Over $5.8 billion each year is spent on health related costs of domestic violence.
  • Nearly 8 million days of paid work each year is lost due to domestic violence related issues – the equivalent to more than 32,000 full time jobs
  • 96% of domestic violence victims who are employed experience problems at work due to abuse.
  • 33% of all police time is spent responding to domestic disturbance calls.
  • 57% of cities cite domestic violence against women and children as the top cause of homelessness
  • Survivors of intimate partner violence are overwhelmingly female.
  • 86% of victims of abuse by a boyfriend or girlfriend are women.
  • Intimate partner violence against men is overwhelmingly committed by male perpetrators.
  • Nearly 5.3 million domestic violence incidents occur each year among women in the U.S. ages 18 or older.
  • 74% of Americans personally know someone who is or has been abused. However, 75% of Americans fail to connect domestic violence with economic abuse
  • Approximately 6 out of 10 Americans strongly agree that the lack of money and a steady income is often a challenge faced by a survivor of domestic violence when his/her abuser.

Source: Allstate Foundation  

National Impact

  • 1 in 4 women report experiencing domestic violence in her lifetime – that’s more women than breast cancer, lung cancer and ovarian cancer combined.
  • Lacking financial knowledge and resources is the number one indicator of whether a domestic violence victim will stay, leave or return to an abusive relationship.
  • Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. It affects all incomes, races and communities.
  • Domestic violence kills an average of 3 women each day.
  • Women ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence.


Operation HOPE has the utmost empathy for those suffering in abusive domestic relationships. Reading these statistics and information can be disheartening but therein lies a challenge: to help those suffering know that an empowered person is a person filled with economic opportunity. After years of working to help people gain financial dignity, we know that doing this can be a challenge and coupled with domestic violence, the path to financial independence and dignity can seem like an insurmountable goal. We want those currently in abusive domestic relationships to know that independence and dignity are achievable. There's HOPE. We have delivered breakthroughs and these breakthroughs happen in our offices daily. The Operation HOPE staff stand ready to assist those seeking financial independence and dignity. We can help. We want victims of domestic violence to know that they will get through this and on the other side there awaits a new life, and new HOPE for their future.

If you feel that you or someone you love is being financially abused, Operation HOPE can help get you back on your feet. Click here to find a HOPE Inside near you to get started.    

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